Different road networks, one location referencing system to manage them all

August 15, 2019 Arif K. Rafiq

While every agency charged with managing roads does it a little differently, the underlying philosophy remains the same. Read on to find out what is different, what is the same, and how you can quantify ROI when you modernize your data management methodology for your road network.

When I first started my career as a transportation professional, most of the government agencies I provided consulting services to were state or provincial ministries of transportation. As a result of this early exposure, the underlying philosophy on how these road authorities store and manage road asset data became very natural to me. As I continued to work for increasingly larger road authorities in Canada and the United States, followed by countries in Europe, the Middle East and in Asia-Pacific, I discovered that while every agency manages their road network a little differently, the underlying philosophy on how road data is managed remains the same.

A few years ago, I expanded my road authority horizons to Canadian municipalities. I discovered a completely different system for managing roads and it piqued my curiosity. Why do cities manage road networks so differently than provinces and federal governments? After all, these are the same roads you and I commute on every day, they are made of the same materials, they are built and managed using public funds. So why the difference?

What is different?

I haven’t found the answer to my question, but I can list some of the factors that I believe contribute to this philosophical difference:

  • City roads have denser, more urban areas whereas provincial roads tend to be more spread out and rural.
  • Provincial road networks are often managed by many different people who may be in different offices. Contrast this to many cities who likely have a transportation team that works out of the same office (or may even be just one person!).
  • Provincial road managers have limited access to their entire road network due to its size and reach, whereas city road managers can personally visit every part of their network. Thus, a city network is more familiar to its managers.
  • As an extension to the previous point, a more familiar road network is easier to organize by more visual means, like city blocks or traffic intersections. This type of mental organization is not as intuitive with provincial roads.
  • Most provincial road authorities started using digital data management for their road networks much earlier than cities. In those days, data storage was expensive, so provincial road managers needed a highly efficient system for storing and managing data. Data storage is less of a concern these days, so cities may be overlooking the data management efficiency boost.

What is the same?

Now that we’ve discussed the differences, let’s talk about what they have in common. Below are some reasons why road authorities must maintain their road network. This is what drives good management practices and they apply to all levels of government:

  • To support a strong economy
  • To lay the foundation for a well-functioning social structure
  • To maintain an efficient supply chain of goods
  • To augment the current infrastructure to support connected and autonomous vehicles
  • To improve health and safety
  • To provide equitable public transportation

The role of BI on your ROI

Business intelligence, or BI as it is commonly known, is a process that can be applied to promote progress in these areas. BI helps organizations understand what is happening in society, the economy, current infrastructure, among other areas to predict and prepare for what could happen in the future, and allow them to make informed business decisions.

BI is essential to progressive and proactive management practices. But to get BI to work, the data that feeds it must be properly integrated. This is where different philosophical approaches to road data management begin to have an impact.

Asset data that is structured, GIS-based, and referenced linearly for contiguous road networks can drive business intelligence. Road networks designed using a segmented intersection to intersection methodology can stall it.

This is a conclusion that many Canadian municipalities are learning about. Transitioning from this traditional data management methodology to a more objective-focused data management methodology takes time and effort. But what’s the return on investment (ROI)? 

Quantifying this ROI eludes many. One approach could be to connect a technical improvement to a strategic outcome and then evaluate the benefit to that outcome.

For example, we can make a statement that the adoption of a Linear Referencing System to manage the road centreline network would eliminate the need for a municipality to manage multiple copies of the centreline network. The single authoritative linear referenced road network could support all road related programs for the municipality through its advanced and scalable data model.

If the city was maintaining two separate versions of a road network, taking this technical step would eliminate the need to maintain one of them. There would perhaps be a little extra housekeeping tacked onto the primary road network, but that could be quantified and would be minimal in comparison to managing an entire second version.

This technical change would then allow the city to manage its road and public transit assets on the same network with less effort, which would directly improve the city’s ability to provide better equitable public transportation. This last statement helps politicians sell their vision, and in the process funds the city’s.

The same process could be applied to other facets of this discussion and then loosely quantified to help the city compare the benefits and make better decisions.

So, while some in the transportation management industry may still question the reasons behind the differences in management philosophy, fewer are ignoring the benefits of a linear referenced road network.

If you would like to dig deeper into quantifying ROI, keep an eye out for an upcoming whitepaper on gauging the ROI for a municipality switching to a GIS-based linear referenced road network management philosophy.

Are you attending the 2019 TAC-ITS Canada Joint Conference and Exhibition? If so, visit us at booth #27!

About the Author

Arif K. Rafiq

Arif K. Rafiq is the Transportation Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of transportation management, specifically highways, public transit, aviation, marine, rail, freight and logistics. As a global transportation management systems specialist, Arif has significant experience managing highway infrastructure around the world. Exploring our vast planet with all its cultures and beauty has a been a major part of his life; he believes that the only thing you can buy that will make you richer is travel.

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